It’s wines like this that make a good local wine shop (or a friendly neighbourhood blog) so important. Apart from an atypically stylish label, this wine has nothing going for it that would normally make you pick it up off the shelf: it’s not bargain-basement cheap (usual retail is $25ish), it comes from a completely obscure region (Sierras de Malaga) in a country (Spain) that is not at all known for its white wines, and it’s made from a grape (Moscatel Seco, otherwise known as dry Muscat) that doesn’t exactly have Chardonnay-esque market appeal. Why have a $25 Muscat from southern Spain when you can stick to Wolf Blass and Kim Crawford and avoid risking that kind of cash on the unknown? Because it’s freaking awesome, that’s why. Thanks to a good wine store initially talking me into taking the plunge, I’ve now tracked down Botani in three successive new vintages, possibly the longest streak in my brief wine-collecting career, and if I can encourage some of you to be similarly adventurous then this blog will be worth its while.
But first, the geography lesson. Sierras de Malaga is a wine region located at the southern tip of Spain, just east of Jerez (where all the world’s Sherry is produced) and just north of Gibraltar and the Mediterranean Sea. It is an extremely unlikely white wine region because the south of Spain generally faces very hot temperatures during growing season, which leads to quick ripening and grapes losing their natural acidity. The reason why whites from this area succeed at all is because it is highly mountainous and many of the vineyards are located upslope at altitudes in excess of 2,500 feet above sea level, which means cooler daily temperatures, and especially colder nights; this leads to longer, slower ripening and better acid/flavour retention. Sierras de Malaga is only a decade old as a formal, legally-delineated wine region, but it’s probably more accurate to say that it’s a recently rediscovered and revitalized area, thanks in large part to Jorge Ordonez, a Malaga native and the producer of this wine.
The reason I just spent a paragraph harping on mountains and altitude and acid preservation is that this wine does not come across at all as heavy or flabby or overly full like many whites from hot weather regions; instead, it is light, crisp, vigorous, and more refreshing than anything coming out of the same general vicinity as Sherry has a right to be. It’s hard to tell in the above picture, but if you tilt the glass and look at the wine’s colour, it’s almost water-white, with a slight green tinge at the rim. That delicate colour belies the monstrous aromatics that leap out at you as soon as your nose hits the glass: grapefruit, citrus, pineapple and gooseberry, all tangy, sharp, tropical notes that bombard the senses even without any glass-swirling. This citrus/tropical combination reminds me a little bit of Sauvignon Blanc, but without the green, herbaceous notes for which that grape is known. On the palate, what stands out the most are the razorblades of racy, palate-scouring acidity which make their presence known immediately and which give this light-bodied wine real expressiveness and authority. On top of the tropical flavours that match the nose (lime, grapefruit, orange zest), the Botani also features big minerality and a hint of stoniness to balance things out; these clean flavours carry a long, bright finish.
It still blows my mind that this is a Spanish wine from a hot, dry region — it just tastes like summer in a glass. I have never come across a better patio wine, one that’s great to drink by itself but would also match up really well with food. I would personally try this with fresh fish and chips, as the acidity would slice right through the fat from the frying and be an incredible contrast to the more neutral, creamy flavours of the fish/fries/tartar sauce…if you could have this all outside, even better. I got this bottle of Botani from Christopher Stewart Wine & Spirits, the Canadian importer of the wine (thanks James!), who I hope will continue bringing this in for a long time to come. With weather like we’ve been having this week, there are few better wines to reach for.
$25 to $30 CDN
P.S. If any other local importers, retailers or producers would like to see a PnP review of their wines, get in touch! I’m always looking for opportunities to try and write about wine, so if you’re interested, drop me a line.